3 – Cultures of war


Warfare is at the core of classical texts that relate its effects on the social classes and groups categorisation, and on philosophical doctrines of governance. The presenters will also examine the role of media and literature in constructing and disseminating myths, fantasies, ideas and discourses of martial arts, religion and spirituality.

  • Discussants: Peter Lorge (Vanderbilt University) & Laurent Chircop-Reyes (AMU, EHESS, FU Berlin)



  • Áron Somogyi (Eötvös Loránd University) – The Concept of “Hard” and “Soft” in Ming Dynasty Fencing Theory and its Parallels in Early Daoist Military Philosophy


The Ming dynasty general, Yu Dayou’s 俞大猷 16th century treatise, the Jian Jing 劍經 (Sword Treatise) is the oldest available comprehensive work on Chinese fencing theory. Yu’s treatise, which was preserved as part of the 16th century military encyclopaedia, the Jixiao Xinshu 紀效新書 (New Treatise on Military Efficiency) uses the terms gang 剛 (hard) and rou 柔 (soft) as categories to differentiate between techniques that precede the opponent’s actions and those that react to them. These two terms became widely used from the late 17th century onward by practitioners of the so-called “internal schools” to give a philosophical background to their new ways of martial arts practice and have been a part of the Chinese martial arts vocabulary up to the present day. However, the introduction of this pair of ancient Daoist philosophical concepts to the field of martial and military arts goes way back to the Han dynasty military classic Three Strategies of Huang Shigong. In my proposed presentation I will discuss the key concepts of Yu’s fencing theory including how his system propagates second intention offense placed under the category “soft” compared to first intention actions categorized as “hard”. I will also point out parallels between Yu’s concept and the Three Strategies of Huang Shigong’s usage of the same terms for the categorization of battlefield tactics. I will argue that these parallels may suggest a Daoist influence on the vocabulary of Chinese martial arts culture prior to the 17th century. However, this influence is less of a philosophical and more of a cultural nature, providing a common vocabulary to describe abstract theoretical concepts.

Keywords: Ming dynasty; Fencing; Martial arts; Daoism

Bio & contact

Áron Somogyi, M.A. is a PhD student at the doctoral School of Linguistics, Sinology Doctoral Programme of Eötvös Loránd University, Hungary. Before engaging in his academic studies, he was a freelancer translator translating several classical and contemporary Chinese works of literature, philosophy and ethnography. His main fields of research are Ming dynasty martial arts history and ancient Chinese military philosophy; he published two papers on the topic of Ming dynasty fencing systems. He teaches Chinese military history and martial arts history to MA students. He has also been a HEMA practitioner for five years and serves as an assistant instructor at the Hungarian HEMA club, Ars Ensis.


Video Presentation 

  • Wu Dong (Beijing Sport University) – Traditional Culture Connotations of the Exercise of Pushing Hand in Taijiquan


The cultural connotation of the exercise of Pushing Hand in Taijiquan is explored in terms of philosophy, ethics, medicine, military strategy and tactics, etc. The author thinks that the cultural connotation contained in this exercise possessed a historical necessity and agreed with traditional culture in time, carrier and channel. The feature of “overcoming firmness by gentleness” embodied a philosophical connotation; the strategy of “gaining mastery by striking after the opponent has struck” embodied the Confucian ethics as well as military strategy and tactics

Keywords: pushing hand of Taijiquan, traditional culture agreement, philosophy ethics, therapeutic exercises

Bio & contact

Professor, Doctor of Philosophy, distinguished teacher of Beijing Municipality, Deputy Director of Martial Art Department in the Martial Art Institute of Beijing Sport University, National Referee, talent of 100 Persons Project of China Sport General Administration, scholar from Japan Sport University. He is expert in nearly twenty kinds of boxing. He was champion in international competitions and won awards for teaching achievements and competitions. He initiated several major courses. He has trained national and international champions. He gives lectures and trainings in many places in the world. He has accomplished several scientific research projects and published academic and report theses in core journals. His theses won multiple awards in of national and international theses competitions on Martial Arts. He was invited by several medias as the honoured guest. He is the initiator of Taiji Zen technical system with Jack Ma and Jet Li.


Video presentation 

  • Manuel Stadler (Leipzig University) – Roger Caillois’ Theoretical Approach to Transgression, the Festival and War


In L´Erotisme (1957) Georges Bataille pointed out that in his lectures Marcel Mauss outlined the basic principles of a theory of transgression. Roger Caillois was the first to develop these hints into his theory of the festival (1939). Herein he states that «the sacred in ordinary life […] manifests itself almost exclusively through interdictions.» In contrast the sacred period of social life is marked by a suspension of the rules. Already in 1939 Caillois drew the conclusion that: ‘since the emergence of strongly constituted states […] the antique alternation between exuberance and labour, of ecstasy and self-possession, which led to a periodic renewal of the order out of the chaos […] has been replaced by an alternation of a completely other order but which alone presents in the modern world a correspondence in volume and characteristics: that of peace and war […].’ In 1951 Roger Caillois published The Vertigo of War in which he again takes up the idea of the «symmetry between the war and the festival» to elucidate «the cult and the mysticism of war which have developed since the 19th century». These considerations were further developed by him in Bellone or the Tendency of War (1961) wherein he presents a genealogy war by comparing different constellations between the state and the army. The aim of this talk is to retrace the basic principles of Caillois´ remarks on the historical development of war and to highlight his main argument which states that «either the social inequalities between the people are codified and maintained through rituals […] and thus wars are generally restricted […]; or the people have equal rights, participate uniformly in the public sector and in this case the war has the tendency to transform itself in unrestricted shocks […]».

Keywords: Roger Caillois’ theoretical approach to Transgression; the festival and war; Using Theory; the secular-religious opposition; extraordinary experience; legal and moral issues

Bio & contact

Manuel Stadler has got a B.A in egyptology where he graduated with a thesis on the Sed-Festival. He also has got a M.A in study of religions where he graduated with a thesis on the anthropology of the body in the work of David Le Breton. Since 2017 he is writing his dissertation about religion and politics during the French Revolution at the facutly of study of religions in Leipzig. He has given courses on anthropology of the body, religions of possession and the Collège de Sociologie in Leipzig. Until the end of 2019 he is research assistant at the SFB 1199.


Video presentation

  • Olivier Bernard (Université Laval) – Magico-Religious in the Martial Arts: Between Social Practices and Cultural Industries


In the interest of interdisciplinarity between sociology and the sciences of religions, Olivier Bernard tries to show that the content related to magic in the social universe of martial arts is linked to the evolution of social contexts. Today, a variety of beliefs and ideas about esoteric powers coexist both in practice and in the imaginary world of martial arts. His study focuses specifically on the representation of magic (even esotericism) in the martial arts as a social phenomenon. In short, the presence of magic associated with martial arts is not an isolated case, but this association is a much larger and complex phenomenon, particularly related to the changing world of work, leisure and the process of secularization of our societies. A plurality of reasons causes people to join or disassociate themselves from these beliefs or ideas. Indeed, some people believe in the hope of discovering a “paramount tradition”, others use them as speeches to convince a clientele, but most often it is an entertaining fantasy that seduces fans communities.

Keywords: Martial arts, cultural industries, religion, magic, esotericism

Bio & contact

Olivier Bernard is a doctor in sociology. His works are, among others, oriented towards the study of martial arts as a social phenomenon. He is as interested in the experience of the practitioners as in the imaginary of the popular culture of the martial arts. As a practitioner-researcher, he pays particular attention to the epistemological aspect of the research carried out on his theme. His sociological reflections thus emerge from a constant back and forth between the theoretical elaborations, the participant observations and the multidisciplinary study of the martial arts. He is the director of the collection of collective works L’univers social des arts martiaux at Presses de l’Université Laval. Co-editor of the journal Photo|Société, it helps to take a social look at the realities of today. Finally, he is interested in the imaginaries and images of popular culture that shapes the identities of contemporaries.


Video presentation